“Hume’s Imagistic Theory of Ideas” by Jonathan Cottrell

Superintelligence, Simulations and Moral Status

Many early modern philosophers hold that thinking involves having “ideas” that represent the objects of one’s thoughts. Some of these philosophers also hold that we have two intrinsically different kinds of ideas, deriving from two different mental faculties: ideas formed through the “imagination,” and ideas formed through the “pure understanding” or “pure intellect.” Hume accepts the first of these claims, but rejects the second. In his view, thinking involves having representational ideas. But we have no ideas of the kind that were attributed to the supposed faculty of pure understanding or intellect. Instead, all of our ideas are of the same intrinsic kind: they are all imagistic, in that they qualitatively resemble and ultimately derive from impressions—the materials of our sensory and emotional experiences—and their impression-like qualitative character plays a role in determining, and constraining, what they represent. This imagistic theory of ideas plays a crucial role in Hume’s philosophy. So, it is important to ask what reasons he has for adopting it. His official arguments for it seem disappointing: they have premises that seem easy for his philosophical opponents to reject. In this paper, I aim to show that the Treatise contains the premises of a more interesting and challenging argument for Hume’s imagistic theory of ideas, which is based partly on his naturalistic view of representation, and partly on his views about introspection.

Date: 17 August 2017
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Meeting Room (AS3-05-23)

About the Speaker:
Jonny Cottrell is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at Wayne State University. He specializes in early modern philosophy, especially British philosophy. His work has appeared in The Philosophical Review and the Journal of the History of Philosophy. He has a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Balliol College, Oxford, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from New York University.

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